As a novelist, I know something that works better than any synopsis of what a new novel is about. You would be better off reading the first few paragraphs of the first chapter, because that’s all the author wanted you to know about the book before you start reading it for yourself. Believe me: the author just wants you to begin reading.
Billy is not me. He comes from my imagining what I might have been like if I’d acted on all my earliest impulses as a young teenager… As Billy learns—in part, from being bisexual—our genders and orientations do not define us. We are somehow greater than our sexual identities, but our sexual identities matter. —John Irving
I always begin with a last sentence; then I work my way backwards, through the plot, to where the story should begin. The last sentence I began with this time is as follows: “He felt that the great adventure of his life was just beginning—as his father must have felt, in the throes and dire circumstances of his last night in Twisted River.”
John Irving’s eleventh novel, Until I Find You, is the story of the actor Jack Burns. His mother, Alice, is a Toronto tattoo artist. When Jack is four, he travels with Alice to several Baltic and North Sea ports; they are trying to find Jack’s missing father, William, a church organist who is addicted to being tattooed. But Alice is a mystery, and William can’t be found. Even Jack’s memories are subject to doubt.
This is how John Irving’s tenth novel begins; it seems, at first, to be a comedy, perhaps a satire, almost certainly a sexual farce. Yet, in the end, The Fourth Hand is as realistic and emotionally moving as any of Mr. Irving’s previous novels—including The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and A Widow for One Year—or his Oscar-winning screenplay of The Cider House Rules.
John Irving’s memoir begins with his account of the distinguished career and medical writings of the novelist’s grandfather Dr. Frederick C. Irving, a renowned obstetrician and gynecologist, and includes Irving’s incisive history of abortion politics in the USA. But My Movie Business focuses primarily on the thirteen years John Irving spent adapting his novel The Cider House Rules for the screen—for four different directors.
“When she was four and sleeping in the bottom bunk of her bunk bed, Ruth Cole woke to the sound of lovemaking—it was coming from her parents’ bedroom.” This sentence opens John Irving’s ninth novel, a story of a family marked by tragedy. Ruth Cole is a complex, often self-contradictory character—a “difficult” woman.
The Imaginary Girlfriend is a candid memoir of the writers and wrestlers who played a role in John Irving’s development as a novelist and as a wrestler. It also portrays a father’s dedication — Irving coached his two sons to championship titles. It is an illuminating, concise work, a literary treasure.
“The novel may not be ‘about’ India, but Irving’s imagined India… a remarkable achievement—a pandemonium of servants and clubmen, dwarf clowns and transvestite whores, missionaries and movie stars. This is a land of energetic colliding egos, of modern media clashing with ancient cultures, of broken sexual boundaries” —New York Newsday
A treat for John Irving addicts, and a perfect introduction to his work for the uninitiated. In his spirited opening piece, Irving explains how he became a writer: “A fiction writer’s memory is an especially imperfect provider of detail; we can always imagine a better detail than the one we can remember.